Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

TOP STORY >>Lincoln plans vote for farm subsidies

IN SHORT: Senator tells farmers in Lonoke that she understands their concerns over imported catfish and high production costs and vowed to help them all she can.

Leader staff writer

U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln spoke Monday afternoon to a mixed crowd of row crop, fish and dairy farmers who filled the meeting room of Lonoke’s Community Center in the hope of hearing good news about the next farm bill and that the trade agreements that are currently being hammered out will be in their favor.

What they got was Lincoln’s assurance that she understands their concerns about competition from Chinese catfish and the high cost of production of all crops and she will do her best to make sure the 2007 bill gives them at least as much as the 2002 bill which currently provides them with subsidies.

What she couldn’t give them was much hope that the disaster relief she hopes to include in the new farm bill will provide relief for the rising costs of farming or that the catfish sold in restaurants will be labeled with the country of origin so restaurant owners can opt to buy fish produced in America.

What she tried to make clear was that the 2002 bill is a good bill that should not be altered for 2007 just to be more accommodating to other countries considering that those countries have offered little to help American farmers.

“What’s on y’all’s mind?” Lincoln asked after a short talk about the importance of continued research to ensure that Arkansas farmers are competitive in the world market, renewable fuels and restoring funding for rural development projects.

“I’m a catfish producer and what’s on my mind is China,” was the first response to her question.
In fact, China was on the mind of many of the producers who attended the gathering.

In addition to wanting country of origin labels on China’s channel catfish sold to restaurants, the farmers wanted to know if the reason China can sell for less is because the farmers are subsidized.

“Even though we’re selling everything we have and we’re getting the best price we ever have, we have a sense of impending doom,” a producer told Lincoln.

A cotton farmer was concerned that China had all but stopped buying from America. Nine million bales of cotton went to China last year, he said. That accounted for 40 percent of cotton sales.

“We sold 1 million bales (to China) this year and the rest is sitting in warehouses,” he said.

One dairy farmer talked about how dairy farming is a dying business in the state and pointed out that it would be good if China would buy a little more milk.

Lincoln and the farmers talked about the importance of Southern farmers whose extensive and expensive irrigation systems would likely be the only ones still producing crops during a severe drought.

“You have a security in the way we grow our crops,” she said.

If those farmers are forced out of business because of high operating costs, the crops they produce would likely be produced in other countries with cheap labor, chemicals banned in this country and using farming practices that are not tolerated here, she said.

She told the farmers that she understands that the high cost of production should be considered for disaster relief but that most of Washington doesn’t.

“America has to start seeing money spent on agriculture as an investment,” she said. “An economic loss should be as important as a crop loss.”